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Kelly Olynyk haunted by Canada’s Olympic qualifying loss to Venezuela

Canada's Kelly Olynyk, left, looks to shoot under pressure from Venezuela's Windi Graterol, during a FIBA Americas Championship basketball game in Mexico City, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.


Kelly Olynyk is still stung by the loss.

Canada was one game away from qualifying for the men's Olympic basketball tournament last September when disaster struck.

Olynyk and his teammates fell 79-78 to Venezuela — a country they handled easily a week earlier — in the FIBA Americas semifinals to see their best chance to book a place at the Rio Games pass by.

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The 24-year-old had 34 points and 13 rebounds in the crushing defeat, but also a critical turnover late that helped open the door for the upset.

"It really haunts you every single day," said Olynyk. "You're like, 'Man we had our chance.' It was all paved and unfortunately we didn't get it."

Canada will have one more shot to get to Brazil in July, but before that the power forward for the Boston Celtics is eager to get fans in this country excited about another event.

Olynyk was introduced on Wednesday as the ambassador for next month's Canadian university men's basketball championship, which will be hosted by the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver from March 17 to 20.

Born in Toronto, Olynyk spent his teenage years in Kamloops, B.C., and was heavily recruited by schools south of the border, eventually choosing Gonzaga University before going 13th overall in the 2013 NBA draft after a standout senior season.

The seven-foot Olynyk never played a second of CIS basketball, but jumped at the chance to help the game continue to grow north of the border.

His father was the head coach of the men's team at the University of Toronto for a number of years before moving the family to Kamloops to lead the athletics department at Thompson Rivers University.

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"It's basketball and it's Canada," said Olynyk. "I grew up watching the CIS. I never watched the NCAA growing up at all, like zero. I used to watch the CIS all the time. I used to watch game film with my dad.

"CIS definitely has a special place in my heart."

The timing of the Wednesday's announcement coincided with the NBA all-star break. Olynyk was in Toronto for the festivities and then travelled west for a few days at home. He hurt his shoulder in Boston's last game on Feb. 10 and was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles after the press conference to see a specialist.

"Hopefully it's not something too serious," said Olynyk, who is averaging 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds with the Celtics in his third season. "It's a sprain, hopefully."

Olynyk won't be able to attend next month's tournament featuring the eight best Canadian men's university teams in the country with the NBA schedule still in full swing.

But he will take part in promotional videos and spread the word for an event that will be played at UBC for the first time in 44 years and was last held on the West Coast in 1982.

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"Just having the stature of his name out here supporting the tournament, that's enough," said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. "It holds a lot of weight."

And once the tournament is over and the NBA season is finished, Olynyk will once again turn his attention to helping his country make the Olympics.

Canada, ranked 26th in the world, hasn't made a Games since 2000 and will get a final opportunity in a one of three six-team tournaments, but will have to finish first — ahead of No. 5 France and No. 8 Turkey — at the event in the Philippines.

"Those are tough teams with good players, but we're a tough team with good players as well," said Olynyk. "We have to go out there and make some noise."

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